Quick Hit Matthew C. Clark Wednesday November 13th, 2013, 11:54am

Chicagoans Protest Ventra at CTA Budget Hearing (VIDEO)

A crowd of about 20 people gathered inside the plaza of the Chicago Transit Authority headquarters on Lake Street Tuesday night to rally against Ventra, and air their grievances during the CTA's public hearing for its 2014 Operating Budget and Program.

The crowd cheered "No Ventra" to cameras and reporters before the hearing began, and spoke out against the privatization of public services.

"Ventra has proven itself to be at best ineffective and at worst totally broken," said Chicagoan Megan Groves, who helped organize the rally."

Groves said the CTA acknowledged the new system was not working when they pushed back the deadline.

"Honestly, I kept waiting for someone to do something," she said. But when nobody did, she decided to act, and began organizing the rally after seeing a poster about the public hearing.

Ahndrea Sprattling is another Chicagoan who said she came to the hearing because she was tired of the CTA ripping off working class people.

"It's criminal. People do not have the money to afford or to take public transportation. People are dependent on the CTA to go to work," she said. "I'm a pet-sitter. I am dependent on CTA to go to client's places to walk dogs and take care of cats."

Last week, CTA President Forrest Claypool said Ventra's full implementation would be indefinitely delayed due to issues regarding its customer service call center and other technical issues.

Claypool said the Ventra contractor, Cubic Transportation Systems, Inc., would not receive payment for its services until the issues are resolved. Claypool also said Ventra and legacy fare systems will continue to operate in tandem until a new implementation date could be set based on Cubic's performance.

Before opening the floor to comments, Claypool gave a brief presentation on the 2014 Operating Budget and Program, highlighting the creation of 1,000 union jobs and a third consecutive year of a balanced budget.

On Monday, the CTA Board voted to eliminate 149 positions, 37 of which it said were union jobs that were being phased out due to the transition to Ventra.

In addition to those who rallied against Ventra, members of the group Citizens Taking Action, a public advocacy organization for transit-dependent riders, voiced concerns over the schedule of budget hearings and accused the CTA of cutting services and disguising them as "service adjustments."

Citizens Taking Action released a statement, citing systematic problems with the Ventra system, including a lack of balance displays on Ventra readers, increased cash fare for trains, and a "dormancy fee."

Here's more on what CTA riders had to say during the hearing:

Ventra contractor Cubic Tansportation Systems Inc. has also been linked to military contract work, both domestic and foriegn.

According to its website, Cubic specializes in public transportation technology as well as defense training: "Cubic's defense businesses provide comprehensive mission support services and training systems that strengthen the readiness of national militaries and security forces. Our communications and cyber products safeguard and transmit data in real world operations."

While Groves admitted to not knowing very much about their involvement in defense businesses, she was aware of it.

"I don't like it," she said. "Even if it turns out to be benign, you'd think the city of Chicago wouldn't want to be involved in such bad press."

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